The 24 best World War II movies

Perhaps the most intriguing factor that drives humans towards the achievement of peace and cooperation is the reality of war and its consequences. Following are the twenty-four attempts on depicting the war on screen for the viewers, in order to portray the facts and reality of combat and its effect on human lives.

  1. All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) Lewis Milestone

With the aid of stunning cinematography and great visual storytelling, All Quiet on the Western Front scrambled two Oscars in the years it appeared on the big screen. The unique ‘less audio more visual’ technique coupled with great photography skills made this blockbuster a masterpiece in its genre in the 30’s and years to come. Reportedly during the screening of the movie in Germany and elsewhere a number of theatres were attacked and vandalized by Nazis and their sympathizers.

  1. The Dam Busters (1955) Michael Anderson

The story of legendary ‘bouncy bombs’ to destroy the dams in Nazi controlled regions, was adequately portrayed on the big screen in The Dam Busters. The stars of the movie Michael Redgrave and Richard Todd did justice with their roles while telling this true story. The movie attracted a fair number of audiences and generated reasonable press towards the history of the bouncy bombs and Allied war strategies in the Second World War.

  1. The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) David Lean

This portrayal of Pierre Boulle’s novel, The Bridge on the River Kwai is the story of British prisoners of wars held by the Japanese. These prisoners were forced to work on the construction of the rail networks across Japanese controlled regions. The main character of the story is one British officer played by Alec Guinness who strangely develops an obsession to complete the bridge to the highest standards possible.

  1. Ice Cold in Alex (1958) J. Lee Thompson

A near perfect portrayal of a perfect leadership, this movie is based on the novel ‘Ice cold in Alex’ by Christopher Landon. After a small band of allied soldiers gets separated from the Afrika Korps during WWII, they have to endure the long and dangerous journey to their nearest camp in Alexandria. The leader of this small group of soldiers is Captain Anson, who comes with an amazing motivational technique. He convinces his soldiers to focus on the ice-cold pint of lager that they would enjoy after they successfully complete their journey to Alexandria or Alex.

  1. The Longest Day (1962) Ken Annakin, Daryl F Zanuck, Andrew Marton and Bernard Wicki.

The Longest Day is arguably the most realistic representation of a soldier’s experience in the Second World War’s most memorable battle, the invasion of the Normandy. The viewers are shown various perspectives to experience a number of different angles of the battle, with as less sentimentalism as possible.

  1. The Great Escape (1963) John Sturgis.

This is the movie that brought us one of the most memorable scene of any war movie, in which Steve McQueen fails to jump over a barbed wire fence using a motorcycle and is left hanging on the fence. The Great Escape is the story of a bunch of brave and ambitious allied soldiers who devise a complicated escape plan. They execute the plan and manage to escape the prison but all of them get killed after Nazis catch up with them.

  1. Zulu (1964) CY Enfield

Based on the traditional Western filming style, Zulu tells the story of the Battle of Rorke’s Drift in 1879. This epic battle was fought between the British Empire and Zulus in which British Army almost lost the battle but eventually managed to the turn the tables and came out victorious.

  1. The Battle of Britain (1969) Guy Hamilton

Perhaps one of the epic battles of the Second World War, The Battle of Britain showed the endurance and courage of RAF against much more ambitious and over confident Luftwaffe. Hitler had a very successful plan to carry out invasions of European nations, first Luftwaffe would destroy all the potential defenses and then land invasion would take place. When Nazis applied their well-tested strategy on Britain, RAF fighter pilots and ground staff showed incredible resistance and literally obliterated the Luftwaffe. The movie by Guy Hamilton very accurately presents the events and accounts of the famous Battle of Britain.

  1. Tora! Tora! Tora! (1979) Richard Fleischer, Toshio Masuda and Kanji Fukasaku

The combined project by American and Japanese filmmakers, Tora! Tora! Tora! Shows the fictional comedy of errors that made the Pearl Harbor attack by Imperial Japanese Army possible and so much successful.

  1. Cross of Iron (1977) Sam Peckinpah

With an innovative and unique style of filming the action sequences in slow motion, Cross of Iron is a war movie with a strange story. This movie shows the struggle between two German officers, one of them is insanely obsessed with earning a Cross of Iron from the Army. All this happens while Red Army is pounding its way into the Capital and the Third Reich is crumbling while the World War is on its last legs.

  1. The Deer Hunter (1978) Michael Cimino

With one of the best performances by Robert De Niro along with the realistic approach towards the effect of war on young soldiers, The Deer Hunter managed to scramble five well-deserved Oscars and made tons on box office. The movie follows the life and experience of three young friends who went to fight in the Vietnam War.

  1. Apocalypse Now (1979) Francis Ford Coppola

Apocalypse now is the Vietnam dramatization of Joseph Conrad’s novel Heart of Darkness. This is the story of American Army’s Captain Willard played by Martin Sheen who is given a mission to kill a the rouge Colonel Kurtz.

  1. Gallipoli (1981) Peter Weir

This epic movie by Peter Weir starring Mel Gibson (Frank) and Mark Lee (Archy) is the story of two handsome runners and their journey from enlisting in the Army for the WWI to the Battle of Gallipoli. The movie also contains the detailed account of the epic attack during the Battle of the Nek.

  1. Platoon (1986) Oliver Stone

Winning a total of 18 awards including 4 Oscars, the Platoon made the phrase ‘The First Causality of War is Innocence’ famous across United States and the rest of the English speaking world. Platoon is the heroic depiction of the Vietnam War fought in the 60’s and its toll on the soldiers fighting against an undefined enemy.

  1. Full Metal Jacket (1987) Stanley Kubrick

A strangely filmed war movie with a twisted screenplay ‘Full Metal Jacket’ is distinctively split into two halves. In the first half the recruits are seen training to be the part of Marine Corps and ends with a private murdering a staff sergeant and then committing suicide. In the second part the strange sense of humor of the soldiers is shown while they are fighting the chaos and tragedy of the war.

  1. Good Morning Vietnam (1987) Barry Levinson

This was the first comedy approach on the sensitive subject of the Vietnam War. The story of the movie revolves around a popular DJ Adrian Cronauer played by the great Robin Williams, who runs a radio show during the tough times of the Vietnam War.

  1. Schindlers List (1993) Steven Spielberg

Spielberg’s successful attempt on the true story of Oskar Schindler turned out to be a multiple Oscar winner war movie (seven in total) with maximum impact on audience. The tagline of the film ‘Whoever saves one life, saves the entire world’ was made famous all over the world thanks to powerful storytelling and amazing cinematography, a signature of Steven Spielberg’s works.

  1. Saving Private Ryan (1998) Steven Spielberg

After the success of Schindlers List, Steven Spielberg went a notch up to produce another timeless epic war movie ‘Saving Private Ryan’. The plot of the movie is about Private Ryan (Matt Damon) who is the last remaining son of a grieving mother. Sergeant Miller played by Tom Hanks is given the task to retrieve Private Ryan from the northern France where Allied forces are battling occupying Nazis. Spectacular cinematography and realistic war depiction makes this epic movie a timeless blockbuster. Saving Private Ryan managed to win 5 Oscars in various categories and got nominations in many others.

  1. Black Hawk Down (2001) Ridley Scott

Black Hawk Down depicts the cruelty of war especially when your enemy is scattered all over and fighting is all about close quarters combats. The movie is about a rescue mission during the Somalian Civil war in 1993 in which a US black hawk crash lands amidst enemy territory and soldiers are caught inside a vicious circle of morality, survival and combat from which its impossible to escape.

  1. Pearl Harbor (2001) Michael Bay

This modern approach on the subject of the famous Pearl Harbor attack by Japanese Kamikazes is the perspective of two childhood friends. With amazing visual effects and great cinematography this war movie won an Oscars and many other awards.

  1. Jarhead (2005) Sam Mendes

A unique approach towards war movie, Jarhead is all about the US marines battling the boredom during the excruciatingly long Gulf war in an unforgiving land. Just like Full Metal Jacket, a large chunk of the movie is about how the marines get trained for the combat. Jarhead is based on the memoirs of Anthony Swofford who participates in the war without firing a single shot.

  1. The Admiral (2008) Andrei Kravchuk

One of the most expensive and certainly the most controversial Russian movie, The Admiral received appreciation and outrage from the audience when it was released in 2008. It shows the real life story of famous Russian soldier Admiral Kolchak who played a vital role against the Bolsheviks during the Russian Revolution, The Telegraph reports.

  1. Fury (2014) David Ayer

Fury takes the viewers in the deepest pits of the war to the maximum depth possible by any cinema standards. The movie is about a tank named Fury and its six men crew, who are fighting their way in to Nazi controlled regions in 1945. With amazing close combat scenes and stunning cinematography Fury is truly a delight to watch for war movie fans.

  1. American Sniper (2015) Clint Eastwood

Perhaps a controversial movie in the future, this Clint Eastwood’s biopic of famous American sniper Chris Kyle played by Bradley cooper caught the attention of many audiences and critics all over the world. The reality of war especially the Middle East conflict is shown with all its cruelty and moral dilemmas.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE